Wednesday, June 7, 2006 ESPNsoccernet: June 10, 8:35 PM UK
'We don't play this game on paper'
If there is one certainty at this World Cup, it must be that Trinidad and Tobago will be hopping on the earliest of planes back to the sun-kissed islands they call home, but don't approach Leo Beenhakker with such a negative philosophy.
Leo Beenhakker: Confident he can spring a few surprises in Germany. (Bongarts/GettyImages)
Ignoring their tag of rank outsiders, Dutch coach Beenhakker maintains a belief that his Soca Warriors can 'shock the World' in Germany this summer and he speaks with conviction when quizzed on his side's hopes in a group featuring England, Sweden and Paraguay.
The former Real Madrid boss has already produced a minor miracle by carving out this Caribbean fairy tale with victory against Bahrain in an historic qualifier last November and now he is refusing to join the unbroken chorus of doubters who believe T&T's only contribution to the World Cup will be a few colourful spectators and three fruitless performances on the pitch.
'I'm convinced we can shock the football world,' begins Beenhakker. 'On paper, no one expects us to do anything in Germany, yet the advantage is we don't play this game on paper and if we have some good preparation, we can cause some surprises.
'Of course, in the end, it comes down to whether or not you have the players to achieve your ambitions, but we have a style that I'm sure that will be good enough to give us a chance in the World Cup. We will not change our philosophy now. It has taken us this far and we will enjoy the experience this summer.
'People keep telling me we have no chance, we will lose every game. Let's see what happens when we play Sweden and then we can talk about the England game after that.
'We have made it through to the World Cup finals and every game we have played since I started working with these players has seen them make improvements. That's what is so encouraging for me.'
Assuming control of the team with nine World Cup qualifiers still to play in May 2005, Beenhakker quickly formulated a plan that not even the most ardent of T&T fan believed would end in Germany this summer.
Working with a clutch of players based in less-than-glamorous British clubs and a handful of battling performers based closer to home, the coach viewed organisation on and off the field as the key and his planning delivered quick results.
'I looked at the squad and realised there were some good players to pick from,' continues Beenhakker. 'Sure, some were getting a little older, but I see a guy like Dwight Yorke as a great performer and believed we could get something out of player of his quality if we set the team up in the right manner.
'The trouble I have had since I took this job was that my players are playing their football in all corners of the world. I have only had them for three or four days before every game and that made preparations very difficult for the qualifying games I was a part of. We needed a professional approach off the field in preparing for games and then a plan for the matches themselves.
'I wanted to try and change the style the team were playing. The British-based players had a mentality to hit long balls, but that was not the strength of this team. That may have worked against some of the teams we faced in qualifying, but for a World Cup finals, you need more than that and I have been working on trying to establish some control of the midfield positions. This is the key for our plans.
'In the end, I keep telling the players that the teams we will face in this World Cup are very much like us. They will have 11 players, with the ambition to score a goal between the two white posts. We will all be using the same ball, so let's not get too excited by our opponents. If we keep a calm mind, maybe there will be something special for us in Germany.'
We will all be using the same ball, so let's not get too excited by our opponents.
— Leo Beenhakker
Like so many international sides around the world, raw talent and passionate emotion can only take you so far and it needed Beenhakker's experience and knowledge of the game to turn the Soca Warriors into a winning team unit.
He is living proof, if it were needed, that the nationality of a coach matters less than his ability to produce results, so it is with a curious tone in his voice that Beenhakker turns his attention to one of his opponents in the Group B schedule, outgoing England boss Sven Goran Eriksson.
Clearly proud that Holland will be leading the way in the coaching stakes with four representatives at this World Cup, Beenhakker suggests the jingoistic negativity that has dogged Swede Eriksson during his time as England head coach has been misplaced.
Indeed, he suggests the English obsession with having a homegrown coach taking charge of the national side may work against them in the long run.
'I don't think it matters where the coach is born and you should just have the best guy to do the job,' he states.
'I understand Sven has had some problems during his time in this job because certain people in the media would prefer someone from England, but you should look at the bigger picture.
'The passport is not important any more. As long as you speak the language, understand the culture of the country you are working in and have a good knowledge of the game, where you come from doesn't matter. I don't hear too many people in Trinidad complaining that I'm Dutch, that's for sure.
'In general, us Dutch coaches are enjoying great success at the moment. Four of us are going to the World Cup, the European champions at Barcelona are in Dutch hands and Martin Jol is doing a fantastic job at Spurs, so I think Dutch coaches are fashionable at the moment.
'Holland is a small country and our history is all about being very open to international ideas, to other philosophies and maybe we can fit in better somewhere else than other people. We are prepared to accept other ideas very easily and that works in our favour.
'I feel Sven has done a great job with this team and the criticism of him is not fair. Coaching England is not an easy job and his results deserve to be respected. Sure, he has some great players to work with, but he has got them to the World Cup and they are one of the favourites. That must be a tick in his box.'
Aside from the thrilling cricket series against India, the World Cup game against England has been the main talking point over a Carib Beer in Port of Spain watering holes in the last few weeks and Beenhakker believes the clash in Nuremberg on June 15th will be the defining moment of his squad's romantic efforts.
'With so many of my players based in Britain, England was the draw they were all looking out for and it came our way,' he adds. 'We are the big underdogs for this game, we know that. After all, our population is smaller than Paris, so how can anyone expect us to match England? But this is football, everything is possible.'
Even if Trinidad and Tobago are heading home after just three World Cup games, they will return as heroes. Dismissing a team with nothing to lose is a dangerous policy.